Leaders of the National Council of Churches USA and the Interfaith Alliance released their “open letter” to President George W. Bush, Monday, Jan 19, 2004. The letter, sent a day before the State of the Union Address where Bush will lay out his plans for the year, urged the president to consider the pressing needs of the public before looking toward exploring outer space.
“Before we get on our rocket to Mars, let us seek renewal together, working to solve critical, worsening problems in our American community,” said the letter, dated Jan. 15.
"Before our joint venture into space, we encourage you to renew your understanding of what it means to follow the teachings of your favorite philosopher, Jesus of Nazareth, who devoted his life to helping those most in need,” wrote Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC, and Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance.
“Obeying his commands and following what Jesus would do clearly means feeding the hungry, taking in the homeless, clothing the naked, ministering to those who are sick or in prison.”
The following is the full letter sent on Jan. 19.
Dear Mr. President,
We applaud your vision of renewing and expanding our nation's exploration of outer space.
As leaders of the largest ecumenical and interfaith organizations in America, we volunteer to fly with you on your "journeys to the worlds beyond our own"-to explore the moon, Mars, or any part of God's magnificent universe.
Before we embark on this great adventure, we urge you to join us in refocusing on the unfulfilled promises we've already made here on Earth.
Certainly, let us venture into the heavens, but first let us unite in a loftier commitment-building a nation a little closer to heaven on earth.
Before we get on our rocket to Mars, let us seek renewal together, working to solve critical, worsening problems in our American community.
While you turn your vision to the cosmos, we urge you to take a look with us at American cities, suburbs, and rural communities. Everywhere we look we see children being left behind-without adequate nutrition and without promised books, schools, and educational programs. We see seniors living in poverty on fixed incomes-many having to choose between prescriptions and groceries. We see farm families losing their farms. We see struggling mothers and fathers losing their jobs. We see millions of Americans working hard for less than a reasonable living wage. We see 43 million Americans without health insurance. We see American jobs going overseas while those left behind fall into poverty, and even those with middle class jobs falling further behind in their earning power year by year.
Solving these challenges here will cost a lot of money. Former Senator John Glenn, the first American to orbit our planet, and others familiar with space science estimate that it will cost in excess of $1 trillion to implement your space plan. Before we spend billions for housing on the moon and a trillion dollars to take humans to Mars, why not spend necessary funds to build adequate housing for our brothers and sisters on Earth, to take care of those in desperate need, and to fund other unfulfilled promises.
Imagine what we could do to solve our challenges here for far less than a trillion dollars.
You said that "exploring and understanding" is part of our character. We wholeheartedly agree. We trust you also will agree with us that any definition of a nation's character involves acting with fairness and justice-and that means taking care of those who need our help and protecting those who are mistreated.
We know that you proclaim the power of religion in your personal life and its influence on your public life. The core teachings of all great religions mandate that we feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the needy, provide health care for everyone, heal and rehabilitate those in prison.
We agree with you, Mr. President, that a renewed space program can create unimaginable benefits and will "inspire our young people to study math and science and engineering and create a new generation of innovators and pioneers." In fact, we had great hopes when you told the nation upon your inauguration that education would be one of your highest priorities.
But according to estimates we've seen, your current budget falls nearly $10 billion short of funding your No Child Left Behind Act. Because of this shortfall, a reliable study has projected that 4.6 million children won't benefit from the programs in that bill-and will be left behind.
According to your own Agriculture Department, 13.1 million children live in poverty and are inadequately fed, living in "food insecure households"-code words for hunger-even though we have the most productive agricultural system the world has ever known. Five million children live in "extreme poverty" in the richest economy in history, according to statistics compiled by Columbia University's School of Public Health.
Even as you focus future research on the long-term effects of space travel on human biology, medical care is in critical condition in the US. We hoped your Medicare reform proposals would help solve prescription drug problems. Under your plan as approved by Congress, the Congressional Budget Office estimates 2.7 million seniors could lose the benefits they currently have and will end up with worse drug coverage than they had before, which was already inadequate for most.
Like you, we also envision "worlds beyond our own." And like Robert F. Kennedy, we choose to "dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?" We envision a world where those who are blessed with the greatest advantages contribute their fair share to help others.
Before our joint venture into space, we encourage you to renew your understanding of what it means to follow the teachings of your favorite philosopher, Jesus of Nazareth, who devoted his life to helping those most in need. Obeying his commands and following what Jesus would do clearly means feeding the hungry, taking in the homeless, clothing the naked, ministering to those who are sick or in prison.
How exhilarating it will be to fly into the cosmos with you. We are ready to go. Let us book the first flight for the day after this nation faithfully fulfills these moral mandates. Then we can soar together, confident that we have taken care of God's work here on Earth first.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
President, The Interfaith Alliance
Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar
General Secretary, National Council of Churches